While attending the Vancouver Web Fest this March, I discovered a brilliant web series called “Empty Space.” This comedic look at the inside world of theatre features a full-out fight between the actors and the technical crew, each blaming the other group for the play’s issues.
As a theatre artist, this moment was both hilariously extreme and bitingly realistic. Why does it so often seem like those in all black and those donning costumes stand at opposing sides of the stage?
While I have rarely observed downright hostility between the technical people and the creative forces in a play, there seems to be an underlying tension between the groups. Birds of a feather tend to flock together, even in a collaborative art form such as theatre. Actors tend to eat their lunch with other actors and other groups of theatre artists tend to do the same. This trend can produce disjointed shows in which the various elements just don’t match up, but even if the finished product looks perfect, this division just breeds unneeded separation backstage.
It is understandable that you will tend to befriend those you work most closely with, and that will put you with the other people doing your same job. However, I have particularly noticed this issue cropping up in a college environment where all theatre majors see and have classes with each other. College provides a perfect opportunity to familiarize yourself with an area of theatre you do not understand and make friendships with fellow artists. Befriending people studying other areas of theatre is just kind and welcoming behavior, but it could also provide you with valuable connections later on. You will thank yourself later when you find yourself in sudden need of a lighting designer. There is no point in burning any bridges, but especially not because of some deeply imbedded prejudice about people working in different parts of the theatre.
Now, I don’t want to point any fingers here, but actors seem particularly prone to such exclusive attitudes because technical theatre is treated as less artistically worthy. Technical people and crew should certainly be thought of as artists, too. Designing a set or building a light plot takes loads of creativity, and yet somehow these hard workers tend to be dismissed as being more like the maid who drops by every now and then to clean up. Even those who just move furniture and hand actors props are every bit as involved in the creative process as the people running onstage. If the finished product is to considered art, then every person who helped create it is an artist. There’s no need to revert to high school clique behavior in an attempt to prove our contribution to the art is better than another’s.
Perhaps the hard knock world of theatre has hardened some of us into thinking everything should be a competition, but once the cast and crew list is finalized, everyone is on the same team. Schools should encourage a cooperative attitude from day one, but either way all of us can be mindful about how we treat the other people in our company. It benefits all of us to learn as much as possible about all areas of the art to which we have devoted ourselves. There are different jobs in theatre, but there should be no sides to choose.
Photo: AMND Cast & Crew Photo